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Is there such a thing as privacy in the age of Google?

Are you worried that Google is using your data in potentially nefarious ways? Or is it privacy a concept we all need to leave behind, a relic of a slower, less connected world? Even if you don't give your data to Google, what options do you have if you want to live a modern digital lifestyle?
January 17, 2014
Friday Debate aa (1)

In this edition of the Friday Debate, we talk about a controversial issue that has divided users and spurred dozens of posts and articles across the web in the last weeks – privacy and Google. Long simmering tensions have boiled over once again when Google announced its email through Google Plus feature last week. Then, when news broke that Nest, the smart thermostat company, was acquired by Google, some people vocally expressed their disdain. The announcement of Google’s smart contact lenses, no matter how benign their applications, generated more anguish for people that think Google is getting too big and too all-seeing.

Are you worried that Google is using your data in potentially nefarious ways? Or is it privacy a concept we all need to leave behind, a relic of a slower, less connected world? Even if you don’t give your data to Google, what options do you have if you want to live a modern digital lifestyle?

Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments!

Robert Triggs

A controversial topic, I like it. First let’s try and put some perspective on this. Handing out personal information isn’t anything new, every utility company you deal with knows your address, your bank calculates your income, and your doctor knows all your ailments. We don’t classify this as a lack or invasion of privacy, mainly because we receive something valuable in exchange. Google, Facebook, etc, are no different.

The evil corporation fantasy is just that, a delusion. Case in point, the Google Nest outcry is a complete red herring. We don’t even know what Google’s going to do yet, and whatever it is you don’t have to buy it. As far as I see it, the worst case scenario is that you start receiving targeting advertisements for sweaters because Google thinks your thermostat is too low. How dystopian!

That isn’t to say that a company, individual, or government for that matter, has a right to your information simply because you use the internet. You should be free to share as much or as little as you want, and many choose to share far too much. Now if Google was too circumvent an agreement then that’s a very different matter, tantamount to theft in my opinion. However, most companies are very open and reasonable about what they collect.

Now there are more legitimate privacy concerns to be had when it comes to governments and other organizations that covertly steal data. Energy would be much better expended on those targets than worrying about companies that wish to trade us something for personal data.

It’s certainly harder than ever to avoid services that collect your data, but I don’t think that privacy can ever be considered dead until we are forced to part with details about our lives.

Darcy LaCouvee

Hold on, let me remove my tinfoil hat. Ahem.

Privacy is, for all intents and purposes, dead. It’s common knowledge among educated circles that the NSA, and by extension, the US government, has access to virtually all electronically recorded data.

People claim to care, and there is the occasional public outcry, but this is a pebble drop in an ocean compared to the billions of people that give up their personal data on a daily basis (myself included) How paranoid do you want to be?

Unfortunately, the forces that be have purposefully weakened encryption to the point where there can be no guarantees of privacy. As computing gets cheaper, more will be known about us. If history has taught any of us a lesson it’s that absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before more of the databases are merged, and we as individuals are assigned a risk matrix based off our associations, our ideologies, and our behavioural patterns. I’ve nothing to fear because I do nothing wrong – right? Wrong. The very fact that I’m writing this publicly could result in me being deemed a soft iconoclast, and assigned a higher risk variable. Or say one of my close friends is very public about their dissent towards the US Government – I too would receive the trickle down negative association. Potential hypothetical future situations like going through a border check with a border guard having access to this information in some form could lead to all sorts of unpleasantries.

We live in profoundly troubling times in this regard – but who has the time or wherewithal to stop using the internet and all the conveniences that it brings to us? I for one would have to stop blogging. Not going to happen. All intelligent, thinking, and conscious individuals should be thinking about this. Over 90% of the world’s internet traffic goes through the US, so there’s little we can do to prevent our personal information from being captured.

On another level, look to China. The government there has the most sophisticated citizen monitoring system in the world. Real time biometric voice identification where words of dissent are muttered and gatherings of protestors can be rounded up in mere minutes. Of course none of this can fully be confirmed, well, because very little gets out.

Regarding trivial things like Google’s acquisition of Nest or the G+ debacle, give me a break. Nothing will stop the onslaught of the internet of things, consumers will embrace it wholeheartedly, more data than ever will be gleaned about us, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Contextualized data delivery will return the era of the personal to us, and we will live better, hopefully more connected lives as a result.

That is if, you can acquiesce and forget about the big bad boogey man. Just don’t think, do, speak, say, befriend, or associate with anything that could ever potentially be determined as the least be threatening or deviant to the establishment/state. Ever.

As you get older, you care less and less, eh? Now, onto new Android phones!

Joe Hindy

Perhaps this is a jaded point of view, but I gave up on keeping my personal data secure long, long ago. There are still some things I keep written down (most of my username and passwords are written down on good old paper) but when I put stuff on the internet, I give it $20, a suitcase, and kiss it goodbye because it’s not mine anymore and I’ve come to just accept that.

I think the big picture here is that Google can only grab your information if you choose to use Google. The problem is that Google is so good at what they do that they make it easy to send your data to them. I mean come on, contact lenses for diabetics, Google Glass, self driving cars, and all that other fun stuff? Who wouldn’t give up a short list of their browsing history just to get some of that?

Here’s the real problem in my mind’s eye. If you decided to sever all ties with Google today and started using other services (be it from Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, or any company with comparable services), Google will still have all of your information and the new company you choose to go with will too. Like Darcy said, one of these days the databases will be merged but until then, it’s worth knowing that every new service you sign up for is collecting your data for future use. It’s not just Google it’s everyone.

But try as I might to care, I simply don’t. The internet has all my information and that’s just the way that it is for me. I read the Terms of Service but I signed up anyway and, thus, it seems counter-intuitive to blame other companies for things I did to myself. I wanted their products. They said I could have them for free as long as I forked over personal data. Younger me was cool with that and while I wish I had shown a bit more discretion, this is a bed I made myself and I will lie in it with dignity. Am I happy that a billion people have access to pictures of me dressed in drag from 2006 when I lost a bet at a costume party? Not really, no, but if I didn’t want those pictures to go around, I probably shouldn’t have let them get taken and put on the internet eh? Sometimes people ought to take a little personal responsibility. Google didn’t have your data until you gave it to them, they didn’t steal it. It just would be nice to know what they plan on doing with it.

What do YOU think?

Join us in the comments and vote in our poll.

[poll id=”448″]